A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
ECG : A Heart for the Nations
The editor very kindly asked me to write an article about ECG at Llandudno this year, the week after Easter (www.ecgevent.org.uk/) but I need to start with something that happened earlier this year. I, like many people, could not help but be profoundly affected and challenged by the media reports in January on the trial of two young brothers and their actions in Edlington. Firstly let me say our thoughts and prayers go and remain with the victims and their families without question.
I was sitting on a train returning home in January listening to a medley of Christian worship songs, chilling out after several long but good days in London and catching up on the BBC news online and reading about the trial. These two things seemed utterly disparate and yet irrevocably connected. The songs sung of the incredible pure love God has for us, contrasted with an act so far from love many in the media termed it incarnate evil.
A revelation solemnly hit me. I found the pit of my stomach drop, my heart sink as the question about the brothers filled my mind, “but who loved them?” It became clear from the family history that nurturing love was not just absent from their upbringing but the gratuitous influences upon the boys were described as toxic. Perhaps for most of us this story is now yesterday’s news but I cannot get away from the question God placed on my heart, “who was there to love these brothers?”
For me, we cannot talk theology in church about being made in the image of God and ignore this question. Our God the three in one and one in three ‘is’ community. The Trinity is the relationship of love in action. I cannot read Genesis 1:26, about being made in the image of God, and not reflect that our humanity, i.e. what it means to be a person, is about relationship in community. Therefore expressing that love means caring for our neighbour, whoever they are, and we cannot isolate ourselves from that action. To do so is to deny what God intended.
I grew up in the Methodist Church and a friend of mine recently made a comment to me and then asked a question. He said, “Methodism used to be a missionary movement that went to those in most need in society but, as it’s progressed in the last century, it’s transformed and become so much more middle class.” Here’s the question he asked,
“Who’s going to these people now? I know we’re not!”
I know there are individuals being challenged week by week to serve God in the more desperate areas of our land, but what if there were many more? What if a whole raft of people were there right on the doorstep, to help, to love, to care? Not to close and lock the church door once the service has begun in case the ‘wrong sort’ should come in and disrupt it, like I heard of recently in two separate places in the UK. I could go off at a tangent here and talk of loss of vision and purpose of what people think the church is really about, but I will resist for a higher reason. I believe God has laid a word on my heart for this time…FEAR. The root cause.
It seems we are often oppressed, led to a lack of action, held back, inhibited because we are in fear of what might happen or has happened somewhere else. That fear then stops us from engaging with those who really need us.
We know what the Bible tells us that perfect love will do to fear… drive it out. I’ve been very fortunate over the years of being a Christian to meet some of these amazing people who are just so full of the love of Jesus they really don’t fear anything. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, I praise God for you. You’re an inspiration of what we can be through God’s grace and in the strength of the Holy Spirit. However, if you are like me, you know you need so much more of the love of God to dispel all aspects of this four-letter word. Know also that this is not something we need to do on our own. God knew what he was doing in building a community of believers to build each other up for works of service. We all need encouragement and there are many ways that can happen and should happen - from one to one support, coaching or mentoring, a cell or life group, the dynamic of a local church to national event. They all have their place and purpose in developing our discipleship.
The previous two years of ‘ECG – heart for the nations’ have led to many personal stories of fears being overcome, leading to renewed vision, call and action to go where God is beckoning. It has been so rewarding and encouraging to see the fruit of what God called into being. ECG may be just a few days of excellent practical teaching and dynamic worship, meeting with God as a larger gathering, but from your stories of the work of the Holy Spirit, the effect is lasting.
So back to the question, “who was there to love without fear these brothers?” What’s it got to do with me? I don’t live anywhere near Doncaster? Why should I care about this? Well I sat on this train and I wept as I felt the Lord’s question…and ached that there hadn’t appeared to be a Christian community that could have loved these lads and shown them a different way.
The C of ECG stands for ‘call’. It’s about us listening to God and answering. We often just focus this word to a specific aspect of God’s mission to this world, such as a call to preach, teach, lead, serve etc. But if we call ourselves Christian we are all called to follow, to service, to witness, to act justly, to pray, to love.
Much of this year’s ECG theme focuses around transformation. It’s always an amazing joy to hear of someone finding faith in Jesus - but that’s just the beginning of a new journey of transformation. For each of us, God’s desire is daily transformation - our values, actions and behaviour, as well as our belief. It’s about what we receive and then what we give.
My constant prayer is the words of Jesus from Matthew 9:38: “therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest”. So my prayer for you in your context is to be the transforming agent God longs you to be.
Need help with that?
The answer for myself is “yes please.” I look forward to seeing you at ECG in Llandudno… an event and network helping to encourage, equip and resource the labourers like you and me. Come and seek transformation though God’s transforming grace.